Clean drinking water is not a privilege for many people in India; tap water is exceedingly impure, rivers are getting more polluted on a daily basis and a regular supply of ‘safe’ water is too expensive for a large section of Indian society. As the Winter season comes to an end with summer close at its heels, the Telangana government has proposed an interesting and unique initiative to be launched in Hyderabad. The proposal, introduced by B Janardhan Reddy, the Managing Director (MD) of Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWS & SB), during a review meeting on Monday, calls for the installation of kiosks with water dispensers, modelled after Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), across the city costing Rs. 1 for a litre of chilled water.
The board also decided to draft women from self-help groups to provide assistance in the collection of water dues from defaulters, as well as spread awareness among people regarding the need for water conservation and monitor the delivery of free tankers. During the course of the meeting Reddy stressed the importance of water conservation as water is being brought in Hyderabad from far off Nagarjunasagar, 110 kilometres away, and Yellampally, at a distance of 186 kilometres.
With the depleting groundwater of the city in mind, an official stated that 1,000 rain water harvesting structures would be put in place during the 100-day action plan. The water board MD has directed the officials to change water connections of lodges, hotels, hostels and other commercial establishments from domestic to commercial immediately. “If officials fail to do so, then action will be initiated against the erring employees,” stated the MD, as quoted by Times of India. Residents of the city are elated at the proposal of the government, Abhiram Pyla, a 24-year-old IT professional, told The News Minute, “I am really impressed with ATM water scheme of the state government. It would be better if the government also looks at improving drinking water to the slums and households along with providing basic sanitation facilities. I would really appreciate if the government will continue it in the long run.”
However, this will not be the first instance where ‘water ATMs’ are installed. Citizens of Borze, a village in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, stopped waiting on the promises of the government to get them much-needed clean water and took the task upon themselves. In 2015, the villagers teamed up with a private company and set up a water dispensing machine, which they refer to as ‘ATW,’ or any time water. This marked the first time that such a hi-tech gizmo was set up in the district by the local gram panchayat who also distributed 400 electromagnetic ATM cards to the villagers. With a swipe of their card, a person would get twenty litres of clean drinkable water for just Rs. 10. “Earlier, the government supply of tap water was erratic and mostly bad, leading to various diseases. Over the years, even the rainfall has reduced and is rather unseasonal due to this ‘pariyavaran gondhal’ (environmental problems),” said Malti Thakur, an elder of the village, to Times of India.
Malti was among a few sceptics who had never encountered such a machine nor ever used an ATM card to retrieve cash, but now is a proud owner of an ATW card, grateful for a supply of clean water in an area that was previously water-starved. In 2013, a social enterprise Sarvajal launched its project called ‘Water ATMs’ in Delhi with great success, and you can buy drinking water by using an ATM card in Shimla for 50 paise per litre; these water ATMS have become a growing source of clean water in rural as well as urban India.
There is yet to be an announcement regarding the launch date of the initiative in Hyderabad, as off now it’s just a proposal, but we look forward to its speedy enactment. Seeing the success of the ATW machine in Borze and machines of other regions across the country, the water kiosks in Hyderabad seem hopeful as pedestrians get access to clean and cold water on hot summer days.
Written by Sara Hussain